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By Mary Chang
on Monday, 15th September 2014 at 12:00 pm
Sir Sly is comprised of frontman Landon Jacobs (vocals, keyboards and guitar) and multi-instrumentalists Jason Suwito and Hayden Coplen, though their identities were kept well hidden until success necessitated their unmasking: earlier released track ‘Gold’ hit #1 on the Hype Machine in January 2013. But it’s taken nearly 2 years for their debut album to surface.
Their most recent single, title track ‘You Haunt Me’ released in July, sees the band at their poppiest: a sprightly drummed rhythm is at the forefront while an almost hymn-like progression of synth chords anchors the background. The lyrics are philosophical if you want to go there – the theme of recounting and regretting a past life ruined by alcohol could be taken literally or with losing a partner as a consequence- but there is no escaping the overall catchiness of the song that will no doubt be more important to the droves I expect to be gobbling up this album.
Inevitable comparisons to the Neighbourhood have already been made, but that connection is far too dependent on the fact that both bands call Los Angeles home. We see this far too often (and unfairly) when bands from Manchester are pigeonholed by their storied history, don’t we? Yes, both groups have an underlying cool hip hop swagger, but the big difference to me between them is in the way Sir Sly are able to effortlessly weave big beats and electronics into the mix of indie pop and r&b. As evidenced by watching the crowd totally into them last Monday when they performed at Washington’s U Street Music Hall, the beguiling combination is sure to win over the indie kids, the pop kids, the hip hop kids and anyone else in between, suggesting to me that they’ll be the band to beat in 2015.
Early on in their career, Paul Lester of the Guardian was quick to point out the commercialism of Sir Sly’s sound. You do sense while you’re listening to this album that many of these tracks would feel right at home synced on tv programmes and adverts, because the songs are so damn catchy. True, the lyrics focus on the well trod on pop theme of lost love, but even in those usually suffocating confines, there are nuggets of gold to be found. Opening track and album standout ‘Where I’m Going’ has the hallmark tenets of regret – falling in love (“I went ahead and opened my heart”), getting your heart broken (“all of my love was wasted on you”), yet still wanting the other person (“you know I’m going to come for you”) – but with a unique, seemingly musician-centric twist, I’m wondering if the song was written from Jacobs’ personal experience. The first verse touches on ambitiously “climbing the rose” on the way to stardom, then unexpectedly “finding the one all of a sudden”, making the song sound similar to Glass Animals‘ debut album ‘Zaba’ opener ‘Flip’ (“I was in full bloom / ’til I met you”), but slightly less vindictive.
Other previously tracks are memorable too. It makes sense that the synth lines employed in ‘Ghost’ are haunting: they’re meant to be. Except for a few lighter moments of clarity in the bridge, including a repetitive falsetto referencing the grave and home, the song is purposely made dark as Jacob wonders aloud how he chose the ‘wrong’ girl, now gone, and is literally haunted by her spirit that still comes round to remind him of what went before. The sped up, sunny Betablock3r remix of ‘Gold’ was used in an American tv advert for Cadillac this past summer but in that form, it’s virtually unrecognisable from the original, which is similarly dramatically dark like ‘Ghost’. Heavy beats, guaranteed to cause some heads near you to bop along, propel the track forward. But the song is more remarkable for its insistence that that it’s far more important to stay true to yourself and go after your dreams than be lured in by the promise of money.
‘Found You Out’ slows things down, showing the trio’s versatility in a less electronic environment, but is likewise philosophical like ‘You Haunt Me’, referencing historical figures Judas and Brutus to point out to a former lover her traitorous, treacherous ways. A song like ‘Leave You’ makes one continue to speculate just how badly Jacob has been hurt in relationships, though with such glittery synth notes, I suppose he’s gotten over the hurt. Enough anyway to record this album. Their ballad ‘Floods’ shows a further introspective side to the band: despite a hip hop-y delivered bridge suggesting that the best way forward to is to move on and get on with your life, the mournful piano that accompanies Jacob’s wistful vocals that the song exits with seems to indicate otherwise.
This vocal dreaminess bleeds into ‘Too Far Gone’, illustrating the band is entirely capable of pulling back the potential heavy-handedness of electronic production to write a more mainstream song. But don’t worry: for those who favour more production and more of a dance beat, ‘Inferno’ starring former touring mate Lizzy Plapinger of MS MR is a tune assured to raise the roof at all of Sir Sly’s future shows. For me, if there’s any fault on ‘You Haunt Me’, it’s that the electronics don’t get their due on every track on here. The band clearly know what they’re doing with them, able to elicit emotion whenever they do appear. But I get the feeling that was Sir Sly’s point: they wanted to show they’re capable of turning on a dime, changing and bending genres to their will, writing incredible songs. (If you still have any reservations, watch the acoustic version of ‘Ghost’ below and prepared to be spellbound.) ‘You Haunt Me’ proves their talent.
Sir Sly’s debut album ‘You Haunt Me’ is out today on Interscope Records.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 11th September 2014 at 12:00 pm
As the days of astrological summer slowly decrease in number in our march towards autumn, it makes sense that we would gravitate towards less sunny, more autumnal sounding records. This review describes undoubtedly one of the best of the bunch to have the fortune of coming out this time of year. The Lost Brothers, comprised of Dublin singers and guitarists Mark McCausland and Oisin Leech, will be releasing their fourth album ‘New Songs of Dawn and Dust’ later this month on Lojinx Records, and what the songs lack in technological advances, they make up several times over in pure musicianship and heart.
As we all know, singer/songwriters trying to make it with just their voice and a guitar are a dime a dozen. While some of the more famous of them now favour in studio wizardry to make them sound better than if they’d gone without, or their labels want them collaborate with other artists not at all of their ilk (the recent announcement of a producer Martin Garrix / Ed Sheeran collaboration comes to mind), there’s something to be said when all there is to be had on record is a vocal and acoustic guitar playing. When there is nothing to hide behind, the goods have got to be perfect. While ‘New Songs of Dawn and Dust’ isn’t without its faults, it’s pretty damn close.
The more upbeat moments on this album are few and far between. The sweet lilts of ‘Can I Stay With You’ is a good example of what was just described: perfection with their vocals and guitars, and nothing else. The Cajun-flavoured ‘Days Ahead’ appears early on the LP, and its placement practically misleads you to the direction of this album. Mostly instrumental ‘Between the Crow and the Rat’ is a short, less than a minute and a half interlude.
The rest of ‘New Songs of Dawn and Dust’ showcase what McCausland and Leech do best: putting a spotlight on sad stories with their talent for turning these sentimental tales into something beautiful. Previously revealed ‘Gold and Silver’ sounds like a happy song but in actuality, is ruminating on the inevitable passage of time while holding on to love. The harmonies in the brooding ‘Poor Poor Man’ is more gorgeous than it should given its theme: in the song, the pair examine the plight of those who have lost all hope. The story of ‘Derridae’, presumably a temptress who has left behind a trail of broken men in her wake, comes with a warning: “so listen now and hear these words / don’t live your life in constant hurt / the days will pass and you’ll remain / a prisoner of Derridae.”
A particularly poignant standout moment on the album is ‘Soldier’s Song’. It’s a bittersweet story sung from the perspective of an enlisted man, disillusioned by the ambiguity of his vocation (“I was a soldier in that old war / they never told me what I killed for”), the friends he’s lost and the uncertainty of when he will return home to his love. Given the current volatile world situation and the unsettling feeling that war is imminent, it may be a simplistic way of approaching the topic, but the delicate words chosen and the equally delicate delivery taken together are nothing short of magnificent.
Another deceptively simplistic song is ‘Walking Blues’, with its jaunty melody and piano notes. Its sweet message that if love is forever, it doesn’t matter what distance separates two lovers, because one day soon they will be reunited (“these walking blues will carry me back to you in time”) has certainly been used many times in popular song, but somehow in McCausland and Leech’s voices and hands, the sentiment has never sounded truer or more genuine.
While many of the themes on ‘New Songs of Dawn and Dust’ are dark, the songs have been written and recorded in such a tender way that you can’t help but feel a warm glow after listening to them. Whether have a love of your own or you are in love with love itself, this is a collection of tracks from arguably some of Ireland’s finest singer/songwriters that you’d be a fool not to own.
‘New Songs of Dawn and Dust’, the Lost Brothers’ fourth album, will be released on Lojinx Records on the 22nd of September. For a free track from the album, go to this previous MP3 of the Day post where you can grab ‘Gold and Silver’ for free.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 10th September 2014 at 12:00 pm
This week sees the release of London band Duologue‘s second album. Their 2012 debut ‘Song & Dance’ featured the epic ‘Cut and Run’ and the wholly mesmerising ‘Machine Stop’, so the question was always going to be, in what direction would the band going to go for album #2? Even having listened to ‘Never Get Lost’ a couple times, I’m still not sure myself, as the songs contained within it vary from track to track in tempo and mood. The best description I can come up with so far is that like some of Broken Bells‘ music, it sounds like Duologue were trying to make a record that sounded like it had come from another world or at the very least by seriously unconventional means, which I realise could be take either as a compliment or insult, depending on the company.
The two early teasers from the band this summer were certainly intriguing. The suitably electronic geek-titled ‘Drag & Drop’ shows off singer Tim Digby-Bell’s soulful yet at times nearly desperate vocals, while the glitchy wub wub wubs and big beats go on as if in indifference to his emotions. It’s pretty brilliant. ‘Forests’, which we gave away in mid-June in this previous MP3 of the Day post, features a catchy, shuffling electronic rhythm that draws you in. Important to note are Digby-Bell’s expansive vocals in its chorus, in addition to the overall feel of the song, is much gentler than those of ‘Drag & Drop’. But what of the other tracks on ‘Never Get Lost’?
The album begins rather darkly and in a brooding way with ‘Memex’. The electronics are minimised on this track, presumably to invite the listener in slowly but surely into the world that Duologue has woven so carefully. Shortly after the 3 and a half minute mark, the song is thrown into urgency, as electronics essentially take over the album. ‘This is Happening’, with its sardonic synth line and its all-pervading sinisterness, it is one of the album’s standouts as a memorable slow groove. Whoever decided to place ‘Drag & Drop’ after it deserves a gold star, as the pair of songs sound perfect one after another.
Going back to that alien feeling, ‘All Night Shows’ in the middle of the LP is the most otherworldly of the bunch. If you’re an electro head, I can see you digging this. I couldn’t imagine myself listening to it often, only when I was in the mood, but I can appreciate the effort. But for anyone else, I suspect it sounds overdone, overwrought and over the top and in some ways, entirely inhuman as it squeaks and squeals its way to its end. Rhythmically engaging ‘Traps’ also falls into this alien music category. Contrast these songs with the album’s last two tracks and most of ‘Departures’ and the first third of ‘Parts of the Blame’, which showcase more conventional pop songwriting structures. Are we still listening to the same album?
The schizophrenic ‘Siblings’ is a good example of where this album falls flat: it’s admirable with its many layers of textures but nevertheless, it lacks focus. For sure, there are some great electronic beat heights and some truly wonderful moments on ‘Never Get Lost’. But if one looks at the sum of its parts, it feels like this album might have done better with a case of less is more. Any electronic artist will tell you the most difficult part of creating music is self-editing.
Duologue’s second album ‘Never Get Lost’ is out now on Wild Game Records.
After several years of making music together, Leeds quartet The Dunwells are making a concerted effort to develop and refine their sound. Their new EP ‘Show Me Emotion’ indicates a definite change of pace from the blues-inflected folk rock of their 2012 album ‘Blind Sighted Faith’. Written mostly during the hectic touring cycle for that album, the new EP finds the band moving away from their acoustic guitar foundation and leaning more on their trademark vocal harmonies, along with keyboards and percussion, to expand their sonic repertoire.
The band, comprised of brothers Joseph and David Dunwell along with cousins Robert Clayton and Jonny Lamb, sought out producer Steve Harris for production assistance on the EP after hearing his work on Kodaline’s ‘High Hopes’. The influence of that track is clearly evident in the four songs on the ‘Show Me Emotion’ EP, which are similarly overflowing with the kind of candid, straightforward emotionality that the Irish band have become known for.
Frontman Joe Dunwell’s emotive vocals on the opening lyric to title track ‘Show Me Emotion’ provide an immediately effective hook as he pleads, “Give me one more chance / I need to make it right.” While the song’s lyrics aren’t particularly inventive, the band make up for that with gritty, heartfelt expression, not only in the vocal lines, but also in the punctuation of the rhythm guitar and drums. The anthemic chorus builds to a layered coda section that seems tailor made for stadium-style sing-alongs.
The middle two tracks on the EP, ‘Communicate’ and ‘Sleepless Nights’, are likewise fraught with emotion. Outstanding track ‘Communicate’ is an urgent plea that finds Joe Dunwell reaching to the limits of his expressive vocal range, while ‘Sleepless Nights’ features the band’s ethereal vocal harmonies to create a hauntingly disconnected insomniac effect.
The EP closes on an optimistic note with the upbeat track ‘The Best Is Yet to Come.’ Like ‘Show Me Emotion’, its message might be slightly trite, but the Dunwells are utterly convincing in their delivery. Explaining the context of the song, Joe Dunwell says, “The Best Is Yet To Come’ was written when we got home from the U.S. tour. We were eager to start playing and recording new material and we knew we had loads more to give. The song is about having patience and keeping your head up, you never know what’s around the corner.”
The title ‘Show Me Emotion’ essentially sums up the Dunwells’ revitalized approach to making music, as Joe Dunwell notes in the EP’s press release. Their fresh and energetic new sound is indeed an exciting prospect for what is still to come.
The ‘Show Me Emotion’ EP is out today. The Dunwells begin their UK headline tour this Friday; you can find all the details here.
Those unfamiliar with the name Just Jack simply need to dig out his 2006 hit ‘Starz in Their Eyes’ for the glimmer of recognition to alight upon their auricles. Never one prone to bouts of prolificity, nevertheless his three albums in 7 years comprehensively describe the glowing centre of a Venn diagram where the dance, urban, pop and chill-out genres intersect. 2002’s ‘The Outer Marker’ is an evocative collection of comedown classics peppered with intelligent flow (“I loosen up your consciousness like a syrup of figs”), downtempo beats and great swathes of portentous synths. A little-known classic.
Jack moved away from post-club lethargy and headed towards the charts with 2007’s ‘Overtones’, the aforementioned ‘Starz’ popping up all over the place on TV trailers and soundtracks, a somewhat ironic state of affairs since the topic of the song is a knowing commentary on the dangers of the reality television machine. It netted him a silver disc, reaching #2 in the charts in the UK and Ireland, and it would become his best performing single.
2009’s ‘All Night Cinema’ continued the pin-sharp observational lyrics and his genre-skipping musical magpie habit. ‘The Day I Died’ is a curious choice for a single, a bittersweet description of a perfect day of the average man on the street – until he gets run over, that is. Elsewhere, ‘Doctor Doctor’ and ‘Goth in the Disco’ both describe the seamier side of nightclub culture, packed full of surreal imagery and with more than the sniff of chemically-enhanced personal experience. And that was it, a trifecta of albums demonstrating the singular genius of Just Jack, after which there were no more…
Thankfully for those partial to all things Just Jacksian, this week sees the release of a fresh four-track EP. The optimistically-titled ‘Winning’ sees him back to what he arguably does best: bedroom dance-tinged electronica, overlaid with his distinctive just-the-right-side-of-can’t-be-arsed vocal. These four songs are absolutely as good as anything he’s ever released. The title track is the obligatory observational pop song, sharp as ever. ‘Droids’ is the dancefloor classic, with disco intent in the massive bassline and an increasingly complex arrangement, Jack comes across as a barrow-boy Daft Punk. ‘Inside’ hints at dubstep orchestration, and sees him back at his downtempo best, with talk of endorphins and bed and breakfasts perfectly summarising the blend of ethereal and mundane that characterises the best of Just Jack’s work.
And is he really musically taking on the 21st century cult of religious extremism on ‘Minefield’? To a disco beat? It’s about time someone did. Extra merit points, Mr Allsop.
‘Winning’, the latest EP from Just Jack, is available for purchase in digital download format now at Jack’s Bandcamp.
This week, American sister band The Pierces released their 5th studio LP ‘Creation’, a shimmering desert mirage of ethereal vocal harmonies and transcendental lyrics that reflects the pair’s recent relocation to Southern California. We here at TGTF have already featured the eponymous track ‘Creation’ and its accompanying video, which characterize the outstanding features of the album as a whole.
The title track to ‘Creation’ is a strong hook for the rest of the LP, showcasing Allison and Catherine Pierce’s seamless vocal blend in the context of pounding tribal rhythms, resonant backing vocals, and iridescent percussion. Its luminous keyboard line glistens behind the perpetual motion of the chorus, “you’re the creation / you’re the reason / you’re the rising sun and the colors in my mind / you’re the changing of the seasons / you’re the growing old and the passing of the time.”
The album’s first single and second track ‘Kings’ has a more pop-oriented rhythm and edgy, cool vocals that immediately made me wonder if this is what the Bangles might have sounded like with synths instead of guitars. The dramatic chorus, “if we want to / we could do what kings do / I can feel the earth move when you speak”, has an especially ’80s feel to it, particularly in the contrast between the vocal melody and the sultry lower-voice harmony.
The anxious heartbeat rhythm and contrasting back-and-forth vocals of ‘Believe in Me’ and the cagey moving harmonies in ‘Come Alive’ are promising hints of variety that unfortunately don’t quite play out on the later part of the album. From this point forward, ‘Creation’ begins to lose momentum, becoming wrapped up in the increasingly contrived lyrics and the monotony of the same rhythms and minor key vocal arrangements being recycled on every track.
The 13 tracks on the album could probably have been culled down to 9 or 10 in order to maintain the thematic focus and mitigate the cloying effect of the rich vocals. Upbeat foot-stomping track ‘Honest Man’ is buried between two vaguely-titled and rather more bland tracks, ‘I Can Feel’ and ‘Must Be Something’. Toward the end of the album, folk ballad ‘Confidence in Love’ feels almost more clinical than emotional, while ‘The One I Want’ is an exquisitely slow-burning exploration of the “masculine mystique”. Final track ‘Flesh and Bone’ is a delicate ending that highlights the dynamic beauty of the sisters’ voices as the album’s main strength.
The Pierces have clearly attempted to expand their musical horizons on ‘Creation’, even going so far as to procure a shaman and ingest ayahuasca to inspire their experimentation with new sonic effects. And while ‘Creation’ is somewhat of a departure from their past, the contrast isn’t as dramatic as it might have been. The sisters’ deep spiritual journey doesn’t extend musically beyond the visceral rhythms and echoing vocals into, for example, more fluid song structures or harmonic variety. In the end, ‘Creation’ is a bit stifled by its own lofty lyrics and airtight vocal harmonies. But the almost tangible energy at the beginning of the album and the graceful precision of the lighter tracks near the end are worth the wandering journey through the middle.
‘Creation’ is out now on Polydor Records. The Pierces will begin a tour of the UK in support of the album later this month; you can find the details here.
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